When Shaun White and the rest of the world’s premier snowboarders drop into the halfpipe and slopestyle course at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, this coming February, they will be scored by a panel of six judges. Longtime Frisco resident Phoebe Mills is the only American on the panel. The 41-year-old former gymnast is uniquely qualified to judge an Olympic competition, having earned a bronze medal on the balance beam at the 1988 Summer Games.
But her road to Sochi is much more complex than that. After high school, Mills became a Big East champion diver at the University of Miami, learned to snowboard in Vail, coached future Olympic halfpipe medalists Hannah Teter and Danny Kass, earned a law degree in Vermont, and then helped open the Woodward at Copper freestyle training facility, where she worked as the program manager until she relocated to Soda Springs, Calif., in October to serve as director of Woodward Tahoe.
Competing in the Olympics was incredible, but when you’re 15, you don’t really take in the magnitude of it. You just go and do your thing. As I get older and time passes, I’m like, Wow, I did that.
At the athlete village in Seoul, I just remember being in the cafeteria next to the wrestlers and basketball players, and their trays of food were overflowing mounds. We gymnasts only had a little food on ours.
After everything was over, a teammate and I snuck out the last night to meet some people and have fun in the Olympic village. I remember I was climbing up the side of the gutter to get back in our room, and our US team coach, Martha Karolyi, came out and was like, “What are you doing?” Luckily we were leaving the next day.
I grew up in Illinois with five brothers and sisters. Speed skating was our family activity; we’d go up to Wisconsin and skate on the weekends. One of my brothers competed in three Olympics as a speed skater.
As an athlete, you learn to block out the judging and not worry about it. The score’s going to be what it’s going to be, and you don’t always agree with it. As a judge, the score isn’t as important as the rank. You just want to make sure you have the right people on the podium. But understanding the gravity of what it means for the athletes puts just as much pressure on me going back to the Olympics this time as I felt as an athlete.
People miss how much stress there is in judging. You’re pulling your hair out: which one’s better? Sometimes you just know. Then there are other contests, usually when someone’s complained, where I’ll go back through my scores and try to watch the runs again. But your first instinct is usually right.
My job at Woodward Copper was awesome because all kinds of riders train there, from Bobby Brown to Jamie Anderson to Torstein Horgmo to Shaun White, and I got to be there every day and see the tricks that people were working on. I’ve got a long history with the Woodward camps, and the overall goal is to make all of our facilities have some obvious similarities that people are getting when they come in.
Woodward is groundbreaking in the sense that you can come to a soft environment, either the trampoline or the foam pit, and get the kind of repetition that you can never get hiking the halfpipe or riding the chairlift at the resort. And you can fall and make mistakes without the same consequences.
Life is a constant learning process. You have to be open to things. All of my different experiences make me who I am and allow me to have a unique perspective when making choices. In the end, it is more about lifestyle than the paycheck. Otherwise, I would still be practicing law.
There are these crossroads we all have at different points in our lives, but as long as you’re going with your heart, I think you’re going to be happier with the outcome.
What I’ll miss most about Summit County is the amazing riding at Copper Mountain Resort. The mountain is huge and steep with great terrain parks. I think I’ll miss just the actual mountain more than anything else. And I’ll definitely miss the close-knit community and the friends I made in Frisco. csm